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Little girl, big pond: Review of Kate Messner's 'Sugar and Ice'

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 7:03 PM

SUGAR AND ICE

By Kate Messner

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Walker. $16.99. Ages 8-12

While battling Beltway traffic to get to the soccer/piano/ballet activity du jour, do you fantasize about a simpler existence for your children? In a snow-dusted small town, perhaps, with cow-pond skating and pancake suppers? Well, in "Sugar and Ice," Claire Boucher, a 12-year-old skating star, hails from such a town - and her life is far from Norman Rockwell rosy. When premier coach Andrei Groshev "discovers" her at a tiny local show, Claire suddenly finds herself "living a dream." She enjoys a prestigious scholarship, superior ice rinks and the chance to train with elite young skaters. If this were Hollywood, "Sugar and Ice" would end in a blaze of Olympic gold and sequined glory. But E.B. White Award winner Messner is too fine a writer for that sentimental trajectory. Messner creates believable tensions among characters and especially within the main character, who sees herself as "nice and predictable." In dealing with Groshev's demanding regimen and a trio of sabotaging "Ice Queens," Claire grows in strength, skill and confidence. But she sometimes wonders if it's all worth it. Her grueling practice schedule demands sacrifice - friendships, leisure time, occasionally homework - but she doesn't want to let down her supportive family, her coach or herself. Contemporary kids, a-whirl in extracurriculars, will be able to relate to likable Claire. They will cheer her through double axels, difficult decisions and a number of surprising turns in the final chapters.

- Mary Quattlebaum


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